Yerevan, Armenia – Day 3 of 3

Today was my last day in Armenia, and my last day of my trip. I woke up early at 7:30am, because I had to pickup my rental car at 8:00am. I walked 5 minutes away to ibis Yerevan Center, where the rental car location was for Alamo. When I arrived there wasn’t anyone there, so I went into the hotel and inquired. The picked up the phone to make a call… I noticed a guy at the other end of the desk answered it, said something in Russian, grabbed a uniform, and left. The lady said “the guy will see you next door now”. It made me chuckle.

My rental car was a newer automatic Nissan Sentra. After doing the walkthrough I drove about one hour towards my first stop; Sevanavank. Sevanavank is a 9th Century Armenian Apostolic Church located on a peninsula at the Northwestern shore of Lake Sevan, about an hour Northeast of Yerevan. Initially the monastery was located on the southern shore of a small island, however after Lake Sevan was drained about 20 metres during the era of Joseph Stalin, the island was transformed into a peninsula. On the Southern shore of the peninsula a guesthouse was built for the Armenian Writers Union, and on the Eastern shore a summer residence was built for the Armenian President. Unfortunately the entire entrance was gated off, and since I was already feeling uncomfortable being in the country I chose not to try to see it up close. I used my Sony RX100v6 to zoom in on it.

Next stop was Goshavank Monastery, about a 40 minute drive away. What an incredible drive! Windy road after windy road, with frost on all the trees! Unfortunately I also went through a few check stops on the drive, and they seemed pretty upset with me visiting Azerbaijan. I really should have entered into the country on my UK Passport…

Goshavank Monastery is a 12th Century Armenian Apostolic monastery located in the village of Gosh. The monastery is in mostly original state, and remains in good condition. Goshavank was built in the place of an older monastery called Nor Getik, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1188. Mkhitar Gosh, a statesman, scientist, and author played a major role in the rebuilding of the monastery. The site consists of St. Astvatsatin Church, St. Gregory Church, St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, Double Chapel, Single Chapel, Gavit of St. Astvatsatsin Church, a Bell Tower and Book Despository, School Building, and a Gallery. The site is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. While I was here there was a beautiful husky named Hank that wouldn’t leave me alone. He wanted a ton of attention; it was really cute and made me miss Ru.

After visiting Goshavank Monastery I drove to Haghartsin Monastery Complex, a 13th Century monastery located near the town of Dilijan in the Dilijan National Park, a World Heritage Site. Construction of the monastery began in the 10th Century with St. Gregory Church being the first building to be built. The monastery contains St. Astvatsatin Church, St. Astvatsatin Church Gavit ruins, St. Gregory Church, St. Gregory Gavit, St. Sepanos Church, and the Bagratuni Sepulchre. While I was here there were also a few friendly dogs that kept me company.

It was time to grab some lunch so I stopped at Cafe Number 2, located in Dilijan to have some delicious pizza, and a few coffees. Cafe Number 2 is staffed by 14-18 year olds looking to make their way in the hospitality industry. I found them to be exceptionally polite, and the food and coffee were fantastic!

I then tried to visit a few other monasteries, but wasn’t successful due to the weather, and two aggressive dogs. I gave up and ended up driving over 1.5 hours to my next location; Saint Hovhannes Church. Saint Hovhannes Church is a 10th century basilica located in the village of Byurakan, Northeast of the city of Yerevan. The basilica is different than many others in the country because it doesn’t have a dome. I wanted to take some photos of the inside, however there was currently an active service, and when I entered everyone was staring at me so I left quickly.

30 minutes away was Charent’s Arch, which was an unplanned visit. Charents’s Arch is an monument dedicated to the famous Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents, who loved and admired the beauty of Mount Ararat. Unfortunately today was very foggy so I couldn’t see much of a view.

Along the same road is the Pagan Temple of Garni and Geghard Monastery, my two last stops of the day.

The Pagan Temple of Garniis the only standing Grego-Roman colonnaded (columned) building in Armenia, and in the entirety of the former Soviet Union. It’s a bit foggy as to when the structure was originally built, but it’s believed to have been built by king Tiridates I in the 1st Century AD as a temple to the sun god Mihr. After Armenia was converted to Christianity in the early 4th Century, it was then converted into a royal summer house for Khosrovidukht, the sister of Tiridates III. It collapsed in an earthquake in 1679, and lay in ruins until it was reconstructed between 1969 and 1975 by a team lead by architect Alexander Sahinian.

Geghard Monastery is a 4th Century medieval monastery located in a partially carved out mountain in the Kotayk region of Armenia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was founded in the 4th Century by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave. The monastery was originally named Ayrivank, which means “The Monastery of the Cave”. Today the monastery is known by its current name of Gegardavank, which means “The Monastery of the Spear”. There’s a legend suggesting that Apostle Judy (Thaddeus) brought the spear that injured Jesus during the crucifixion to Geghard. The first monastery was destroyed by the Arabs in the 9th century. The current iteration of the monastery was started in 1215. Some of the churches within the monastery are entirely dug out of the cliff rocks, some are little more than caves, and others are elaborate structures.

Afterwards I drove an hour back to Yerevan, parked my car at Freedom Square, and walked back to my hotel. After resting for a while I walked next door to the grocery store and purchased some fruit and vegetables for dinner. I had to call it an early night since I needed to wake up at 3:00am to drive to the airport. Unfortunately some very loud ladies woke me up at 12:55am when they came back to the hotel and had a conversation in the hallway. I only ended up getting 2 hours of sleep.

I drove back to the airport and dropped off my car. Upon check-in I was presented with an upgrade to business class for my first of three flights. At this point I already knew that my third flight was also upgrade, but wasn’t sure about my second flight yet. I settled into the lounge to do some photo editing and some work. There was this obnoxiously loud individual talking on speakerphone in the lounge, however at this point in time I chose to ignore him.

My first flight was on an Austrian Airlines A320 from Yerevan, Armenia to Vienna, Austria. In Vienna I had a 4 hour layover so I checked into the lounge to do some more photo editing and work. Guess what… obnoxious guy also came into this lounge, and chose to sit right next to me. Within 10 minutes he started up a facetime conversation with someone, and this was an open invitation for me to comment. I turned to him and said “I chose to ignore you at the last airport, however nobody wants to hear your conversations. People come to a lounge and relax. He made the unfortunate decision to sit next to me despite the rest of the lounge being completely empty. What you’re doing is obnoxious, and you should be more mindful”. He ended up putting his headphones in, but was still rather loud, so I chose to move. Gotta love those kinds of people… Towards hour three I was notified that I was upgraded to business class, which was great because I was functioning on very little sleep.

My next flight was on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to Toronto. The flight was a bit turbulent, but other than that went smoothly. I ended up getting about 3 hours of shut eye on the flight, which helped. After arriving in Toronto I caught the Hilton hotel shuttle bus to my hotel. By the time I arrived it was 4:00pm. I worked on my blog for an hour, and then went to bed, sleeping all the way until 3:00am. After waking up I took the shuttle back to the airport to catch my final flight back to Calgary on an Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX-8. Prior to boarding I spent some time in the Air Canada lounge and had some breakfast.

This concludes my Further East Europe trip. Upcoming trips include The Wave, Arizona in March, and Eastern USA in April. Stay tuned!

Yerevan, Armenia – Day 2 of 3

Today I woke up at 7:30am naturally. After getting dressed I walked over to the sister hotel where a delicious complimentary breakfast buffet was being served. After breakfast I hailed a taxi on the GG app to the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex. The Armenian Genocide Memorial is dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide, and is located on Tsitsernakaberd hill that overlooks Yerevan. It was built in 1967 on the same site that was once an Iron Age fortress. Every year on April 24th the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is recognized, and thousands of people lay flowers around the memorial out of respect of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who died during the atrocities committed by the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) between 1915 and 1922. The concrete monument was designed by architects Arthur Tarkhanyan, Sashur Kalashyan and artist Hovhannes Khachatryanar. The monument features a 44 metre tall “stele” which symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Next to the stele is a circle with a depth of 1.5 metres featuring an eternal flame, which is surrounded by 12 concrete slabs, which represents the twelve lost provinces in the present-day Turkey. Along the edge of the park there is a 100 metre long wall with the names of towns and villages where massacres and deportations were known to have taken place. At the same site the is The Armenian Genocide Museum, which was very sobering to visit. I spent about an hour hear reading about what happened.

After visiting the memorial it was time to do something lighter. Located on the same hill is the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex. The sports complex is a futuristic looking sporting complex that was opened in 1983. It was designed by A. Tarkhanian, S. Khachikian, G. Poghosian, G. Musheghian. The sports complex has capacity for 8000 people and was only open for two years before a large fire broke out. After the fire it sat empty for two years until it was repaired by the end of 1987. In 1999 the complex received its current name after the assignation of Armenian parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan. In October 2005 the complex was sold by the Armenian government to Russian BAMO Holding Company for $5.7 million with the agreement that the name of the complex couldn’t be changed, and the functionality of the complex couldn’t be changed. Shortly after nearly $42 million was spent renovating the complex over a three year period into a modern sports / concert arena. In August 2014, BAMO Holding Company had accumulated a large amount of debt, and the Government of Armenia transferred the ownership of the complex to the Ministry of Defense. In August 2015 the government decided to sell the complex to NTAA Investment Group, who eventually has a plan to turn the complex into a family-oriented center that will include hotels, an indoor waterpark, concert halls, meeting rooms, restaurants, shops, and a casino.

From here I took a quick 8 minute taxi ride to Yerevan Cadastre Local, which is located at 35/2 Komitas Avenue. It is a neat looking soviet era building, however I couldn’t find any information on it.

It was already approaching lunch at this point in time, so I decided to walk to Cafe Aznavour, about 20 minutes away, to get some lunch. The Russian couple that I met yesterday had recommended this place to me, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I had some coffee and Borscht.

Across the street from where I had lunch was a very strange building that houses the Development and Investments Corporation of Armenia. The building is a neobrutalist apartment block located at 74 Nairi Zaryan Street. Despite the building looking fairly old, it was recently completed in 2013, and reminds me a lot of the “city gates” that were built in Belgrade, Serbia. You can read about that in my blog post here.

A 20 minute walk away was Haghtanak Amusement Park and the Mother Armenia Statue. The amusement park is located in… you guessed it… Haghtanak Park. Despite it looking fairly dated, it is a fairly new amusement park that was started in 2017. It features 24 rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, a ferris wheel, gondolas, etc. This reminds me a bit of the amusement park that I visited in Tbilisi.

The Mother Armenia Statue features a female monumental statue in Victory Park that overlooks Yerevan. It replaces a monumental statue of General Secretary Joseph Stalin, which was original erected in 1950. The original monument was designed by sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and architect Rafayel Israyelian. They designed the pedestal to allow statues to be easily replaced, because they “knew that the glory of dictators is temporary”. In 1962 the statue of Stalin was removed, with one soldier being killed and many others injured during the process. In 1967 the current statue of Mother Armenia, designed by Ara Harutyunyan, was installed. Mother Armenia symbolizes a 17 year old girl, named Genya Muradian, which Ara met at a store. The monument, including Mother Armenia and the original pedestal stands 51 metres (167 feet) tall.

After enjoying a nice walk through Haghtanak Park I exited on the North end, where I saw a huge obelisk. I walked over to it and realized I hadn’t done any research about this obelisk at all. Standing at 65 metres tall, it commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Soviet rule in Armenia. At the top of the monolith is a crown from the Urartian period, which dates back to about 850 BC. The obelisk was designed by architects Jim Torosyan and Sarvis Gurzadyan, and was completed in 1967.

I ended up walking down the huge Cascade Complex to get to my next stop, which was the National Centre of Chamber Music. The National Centre of Chamber Music is a concert hall in the Kentron district of Yerevan. The music hall is constructed in Armenian architecture style, and was opened in 1977. The hall has a capacity for 300 people, and was designed by Stepan Kyurkchyan, and constructed by Eduard Khzmalyan. The organ located inside the music hall is a unique pipe organ that was used in a few areas in the former USSR. It was designed in the Netherlands on a 17th century design that was used mainly for Baroque music, and features 4000 pipes. It was installed in 1979, and renovated in 2007. I also spotted an old soviet era playground while I was here.

A block away is the site of an abandoned cable car station. The abandoned lower station, located at 1,3 Charents Street was built in 1962 and served 600 people a day until a tragic accident occurred in 2004. One of the cable cars derailed and fell 15 metres into the steep hillside. The car was carry eleven people; five of the people died and the other six were seriously injured. The main cable was replaced a year earlier, and it was suspected that improper maintenance occurred. The owner / operator of the cable car ended up being accused of criminal negligence and was sentenced to up to ten years in prison.

My next stop was a fair distance away, about a 25 minute walk. The Tigran Petrosian Chess House is the chess center complex of Yerevan. It was opened in 1970, and is now recognized globally as being one of the best chess center in the world. The complex was named after the former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian in 1984. Tigran even laid the first stone of the building. The triangular shaped building was designed by Zhanna Meshcheryakova.

Another ten minute walk away was the Rossia Mall. The unique building is a well-preserved example of soviet brutalism, and somewhat resembles that of a saddle. Across the street was quite the monstrosity of a brutalism (modernism) apartment complex.

It was starting to get dark at this point, so it was time to wrap up my day. I didn’t need to take the metro, but I wanted to ride atleast one stop to get a feel for what it was like. The stations were essentially all original, as was the rolling stock. I took the metro one stop and then walked back to Lavash Restaurant, and had another local dish called Kinjura, which was basically a huge lamb wellington in the shape of those Georgian dumplings called Khinkali. It was delicious!

Yerevan, Armenia – Day 1 of 3

Today I woke up at around 5:00am to catch a 8:00am flight to Yerevan, Armenia. I decided to take a cab since it was only a $10 ride to the airport. My flight was out of Terminal 2 at Dubai, which is the low cost carrier terminal. It reminds me a lot of London Stansted airport, or Terminal 2 at Lisbon. Very basic, and extremely busy. I had my travel fork taken away from me at security, despite it completing dozens of previous trips with me without issue in the past.

After clearing security, I had a delicious three cheese toasted sandwich, and a coffee while waiting for my flight. My flight was on a Fly Dubai Boeing 737 MAX-8. On the flight there was this obnoxious Armenian who started vaping before we even took off. After reaching cruising altitude I went back to tell the flight attendants, who went and asked him to stop, and then he got confrontational with them. Eventually he drank enough and fell asleep. What a great start to my trip to Armenia…

On the descent into Yerevan there were breathtaking views of Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano, which stands at 5137 metres (16854 feet) tall. Fun fact; Mount Ararat actually resides in Turkey.

When I landed at Yerevan I was heavily scrutinized for having gone to Azerbaijan, despite reading online that it wouldn’t be an issue if I did Azerbaijan first, then Armenia. Apparently if it was the other way round I would have been turned away immediately. After being scrutinized for about twenty minutes the customs officer stamped my passport and let me go on my way.

I had downloaded a taxi hailing app called GG prior to entering the country, so that I could grab a taxi and go. While I was waiting for my taxi I was harassed by quite a few Armenians at the airport. This wasn’t giving me good vibes about the country, and I hadn’t even left the airport.

I ended up leaving the airport and walking to the very end of the terminal to get away from people. I noticed a very old brutalism (modernism) airport terminal. It was first opened in 1961 and is a well preserved example of Soviet Brutalism style architecture. The original soviet style terminal was designed by M. Khachikyan, A. Tarkhanyan, S. Qalashyan, L. Cherkezyan, and M. Baghdasaryan. It is a circular building, with the parking located underneath the bridge serving the departures. Alongside the original terminal stands a huge monolithic spaceship-like control tower, which had a luxury restaurant at the top. In the 1980’s a new terminal was built alongside the original terminal to increase with the increased domestic air travel. Cargo traffic increased significantly after Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and a new cargo terminal was opened in 1998. In 2006 a new gate area and arrival hall were opened. The airport consists of only one 3850 metre (11630 foot) long runway. While you can’t currently enter the original terminal or control tower, they’re both currently protected from being knocked down. Perhaps one day they can be restored to their former glory?

My taxi driver showed up and drove me to my hotel; Elysium Gallery Hotel, about 15 minutes away, right in the city center.

After checking into my hotel, which was a small simple room, I started exploring Yerevan. Before I dive into Yerevan lets explore a bit of the history of Armenia and the capital city of Yerevan.

Armenia History

Armenia, originally called Hayk, is located in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat. Human occupation of the area dates back to about 4000 BC. There’s too much history that has occurred in the area for me to go over in detail, however Modern Armenia is comprised of only a small portion of what ancient Armenia, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, once was. During its peak, Armenia extended from the south-central Black Sea coast to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia, which is located in present-day Iran. Historic Armenia was constantly invaded over the years and eventually lost its autonomy in the 14th Century. The Ottoman Empire and the Persians ruled the area for hundreds of years, until Russia annexed Eastern Armenia during the 19th Century. Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule, and in 1894-1896 and 1915-1922 the Ottoman government committed awful acts of genocide by killing millions of Armenians. Eastern Armenia declared independence on May 28th 1918, however was quickly invaded by the Turks and Soviet Russia in 1920. The Soviet Republic of Armenia was established on November 29th 1920, and in 1922 Armenia became part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which was dissolved in 1936 to become part of the Soviet Union, where it remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. It declared independence on September 23rd 1991.

Yerevan History

Yerevan is the largest city in Armenia, and is also the Capital city. The history of Yerevan dates back to 8th Century BC with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by King Argishti I of Urartu. Erebuni was designed as an administrative and religious center. Over the later years of the ancient Armenian Kingdom, new capital cities were establish, and Yerevan declined in importance. Under Iranian and Russian ruling it was the center of the Erivan Khanate from 1736 to 1828, and the Erivan Governorate from 1850 to 1917. After World War 1, Yerevan became the capital city of the First Republic of Armenia, and the city rapidly grew when it was under Soviet ruling, and further more in the 1990’s after Armenia declared its independence. Today Yerevan has 1.4 million people and is a popular tourist destination, and is an important industrial sector. Over 40% of Yerevans industrial products are produced in Yerevan, including chemicals, metals, machinery, rubber products, plastics, textiles, clothing, and jewelry. Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO.

Exploring Yerevan

My first spot to visit was supposed to be Freedom Square, but guess what? There was a massive protest there, so I quickly turned around and walked the other way. There was probably about 100 police officers there from my estimate. I presume they were protesting about the Azerbaijan conflict that’s ongoing, and got significantly worse within the last few days. Apparently they also annoyed Russia the morning I arrived by notifying them that they’re not allowed to practice military drills at their military base, which is located just outside Yerevan, this year, because its not tasteful with the current issues ongoing in the Ukraine.

Skipping to the next place to visit was the The Aram Khachatryan Concert Hall, also known as Yerevan Opera Theatre, was built in 1939. It was designed by Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian in 1933, and was designed to have over 3000 seats between two concert halls; an Opera Hall, and a Ballet Theatre. Construction had begun, and Alexander even had designed a miniature model to be presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937, however he died in 1936 before he could present his plan. The main theatre was finished in 1939 under the supervision of his son, however overall construction lasted until 1953! The final capacity of the the Opera Hall was 1400 seats, and the Ballet Theatre had 1200 seats.

Nearby was Komitas Statue. Komitas Statue is dedicated to Soghomon Soghomonian, also known as Komitas. He was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, and is considered the founding father of the Armenian National School of Music.

Also nearby is the Alexander Tamanyan Statue, which is dedicated to the Russian-born Armenian neoclassical architect, who is well known for his work in Yerevan. The statue was built in 1974.

Immediately behind is the enormous Cascade Complex. The Yerevan Cascade Complex is a giant staircase made of limestone. It links the downtown Kentron area with the Monument neighbourhoods of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun. It was designed by architects Jim Torosyan, Aslan Mkhitaryan, and Sargis Gurzadyan. Construction started in 1971, and was only partially completed by the time construction stopped in 1980. There are several elevators underneath the steps, as well as exhibit halls connected to some of the landings. Construction of the final phase began again in 2002, and lasted until 2009. The project is still technically incomplete, as there is a large museum complex proposed, but construction has yet to begin. You really have to see this place to experience how large it is. I’ve never seen anything like this! While I was here I could see and hear fighter jets overhead, which made me feel more unsettled than I already was. I tried to use my VPN and google what was going on, but guess what? VPN was blocked. Never had that before… what’s going on here? I eventually found out later on that Russia was buzzing Yerevan because they were upset that Armenia announced earlier that day that they were no longer going to allow Russia to do wargame training because of the ongoing Ukraine war.

I continued exploring Yerevan, but felt on edge and was rushing through things. I would say that my photography wasn’t the best in this city because of that. Next stop was the Eternal Alphabet Wall, which is an art relief project showcasing the Armenian alphabet in beautifully cut out metal forms. The art project was designed by Bahan Balasanyan, and installed in 2015 in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian alphabet, which contains 38 letters (31 consonants and 7 vowels), was developed around 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian linguist. The alphabet originally had 36 letters, however three more were eventually adopted. The alphabet was also widely used in the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From here I could see two unique buildings; the Museum of Manuscripts, and the NPUA 9th Building.

The Museum of Manuscripts, also known as Matenadaran, is a repository of manuscripts and a research institute. The building was built between 1945 and 1958 out of gray basalt. The reason why it took so long to build was because there was a lack of labour between 1947 and 1953. It was designed by Mark Grigorian, and is influenced by medieval Armenian architecture.

The NPUA 9th Building is a university building that was built in the 1980’s. The building, designed by Armen Aghalyan, is an excellent example of brutalism (modernism).

A short walk away is the National Library of Armenia. The building was built in 1939 and designed by architect Alexander Tamanyan. I ended up just snapping a photo of the exterior, because I didn’t feel like going inside.

Just up the street from the library is The Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, which was founded in 1921. I couldn’t find much history on the building that it resides in, however you can see some beautiful Soviet era motifs, so I have to believe that this building was built in the 1920’s, or as late as the early 1930’s.

A short walk away is the Yeritasarddaken metro station, which is a great example of brutalism (modernism). Yerevan Metro is the eight metro system that the former Soviet Union built. Unlike most of the former soviet metro systems, its stations are not very deep. The metro stations are also fairly basic on the inside.

Just up the road is the Holy Mother of God Kathoghike Church, which is a small medieval style Armenian Apostolic Church that was constructed in 1264. The complex was larger once upon a time; a large basilica named after the Holy Mother of God was built between 1693 and 1695, however it was demolished under Soviet rule to make way for residential buildings and a linguistic institute. The only remaining building is Katoghike, which measures only 5.4 metres by 7.5 metres. Due to its small size, it only serves as a prayer house.

A few blocks away was Cinema Rossia, a former soviet cinema that was built in 1975. It was designed by Spartak Khachikyan, Hrachik Poghosyan, and Artur Tarkhanyan.

I was starting to get hungry, so I decided to eat at a restaurant called Lavash, where I had a local delicacy called Lavash. I figured the restaurant probably knew how to cook that dish properly considering its name. Lavash is a thin flatbread, however this restaurant did a bit of a twist. My meal included a delicious steak with melted cheese cooked inside lavash, cut open, and then spread over my steak. It was absolutely incredible!

After enjoying my delicious meal I walked to the Hard Rock Café, where I purchased another pin. I also found the building looked pretty neat.

I then walked to the former Ministry of Labour and Social building, which is another excellent example of soviet brutalism, and was built in 1972. It is located next to Republic Square and Republic Square metro station. The building was designed by architects T. Gevorkyan and V. Gusyan.

Speaking of Republic Square, check out the neat look of Republic Square Metro station.

Turning around 180 degrees you’re presented with the jaw dropping Republic Square. Republic Square, formerly known as Lenin Square, is the central town square in Yerevan. It consists of two sections; an oval roundabout, and a trapezoidal shaped section, which contains a pool with musical fountains. The square is surrounded by five major buildings (Government House, History Museum, National Gallery, Armenia Marriott Hotel, and two other government buildings, which were all built in pink and yellow volcanic rock in neoclassical style. The square was renamed to Republic Square when Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

It was starting to get dark, but there were a few more places I wanted to visit before calling it a day. A 15 minute walk away was the Yerevan History Museum. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, however I did snap a photo from the outside. The Yerevan History Museum was founded in 1931 as the Communal Museum. The museum is located in a building designed by Jim Torosyan, and is attached to the Yerevan City Hall. The museum as originally located on the second floor of the Yerevan Fire Department building until 1936, then was moved to the Blue Mosque until 1994. From 1994 to 1997 the museum was located in a former gymnasium, until it moved to its current location in 2005. The main façade of the museum showcases what the original city core looked like.

Across the street is the Noy Brandy Company. There’s a bit of history with how Noy came to be. Original Noy started life as the Yerevan Brandy Company, also known as ArArAt, which was established in 1887 within the territories of the Erivan Fortess. It was started by a wealthy guild merchant named Nerses Tairyan, with the help of his cousin Vasily Tairov. In 1899 it was leased to Russian businessman Nikolay Shustov, who was well-known for his vodka and liqueur production. In 1900, Shustov fully acquired the factory and renamed it to Shustov and Sons. The company ended up becoming the main supplier of the Imperial Majesty’s court of Russia. Here’s a fun fact; In 1900, Shustov’s Armenian brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called “cognac”, which is usually only reserved for Brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. In 1948, the factory was separated into 2 entities; the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory, and the Yerevan Brandy Factory. In 1953 the Yerevan Brandy Factory was transferred to a new building, designed by architect Hovhannes Margaryan, in 1953. The new building stands on a high plateau at the western end of the Victory Bridge, opposite the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory. It has a long flight of steps leading up to nine austere arches. Between 1953 and 1991, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was granted the rights to produce Armenian cognac within the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was sold by the Government of Armenia to French distiller Pernod Ricard for $30 million in June 1998, after a competitive bidding process. The other building entered a period of abandonment until 2002, when it was privatized and sold to Multi Group Holding led by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan. The building was completely restored and rebranded as “NOY”, after Noah’s Ark, because apparently it rested on the Mountains of Ararat according to biblical scriptures. Anyways so I ended up doing a tour here alongside a young Russian couple who were celebrating their 11th year anniversary together. They were absolutely wonderful and we had some great conversations. During the tour we got to taste delicious port from 1913 and 1924, and some 10 and 20 year brandy’s. The bottle from 1913 goes for a few thousand dollars!

After the tour I was decided to take some night photos, and get some dinner on my way back to the hotel. I stopped at the Dargett Craft Beer brewery for a delicious pizza. This is apparently one of the top destinations in all of Yerevan for food and beverages. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

One I finished dinner, I walked back to my hotel and did some blog writing for the remainder of the evening.

Dubai, UAE – Day 3 of 3

Today was my final day in Dubai, and again I had to wake up fairly early to ensure I was able to see everything that I wanted to see. I woke up at 7:30am, got ready, and took the metro to the Mall of the Emirates to have Tim Hortons for breakfast, since it was on the way to my first stop at Legoland. They have more unique breakfast options than we do at home. I had a chicken and cheese English muffin, alongside a large coffee. The coffee here tastes way better than the Tim Hortons coffee back home.

I hopped back on the metro until the end of the line, where I transferred to an express bus to take me to Legoland. All in all, the trip from my hotel to Legoland took nearly 2.25 hours, including my 25 minute stop at the mall for breakfast. While this took a while, it sure did beat a $100 cab ride each way.

Legoland Dubai opened in October 2016, and is the eighth in the world. I have been to the one in California, and I believe the one in Florida as well, and those ones were substantially better than this one. The park features a few rollercoasters, 40 attractions, and utilizes over 20 million lego bricks to create 15000 miniature models of different landmarks and structures from around the world. I was mainly interested in the Miniatureland section, more so than the rides.

After exploring Legoland I took the bus and metro to the Al Fahidi Historical District, almost back where my hotel was. Al Fahidi is a historical neighbourhood that is well preserved so you can experience what Dubai would have been like in the late 1800’s. Construction of the neighbourhood was started in the 1890’s, and features about 60 housing units. It was built primarily for Persian Merchants who were drawn to Dubai by trade opportunities and the incentives offered by the Emerati government. In the 1980’s about half of the historic neighbourhood was knocked down to make way for the development of a new office complex. The rest of the area was slated for demolition by the city in 1989, however British architect Rayner Otter worked with the city to stop the planned demolition. In 2005 a project was initiated by the city to restore the old neighbourhood. Located within the neighbourhood is Al Fahidi Fort, which was built in the late 18th Century as a defensive structure along the city boundary. The fort was expanded between the 1830’s and 1850’s.

From the Al Fahidi district I could see my next stop across the water; the Dubai Spice Souk. Dubai’s Spice Souk, also known as the Old Souk, is a traditional spice market located in Deira (East Dubai). The souk is comprised of very narrow lanes which are lined with tiny stores that sell spices. It’s a colourful and aromatic sensory overload. It’s also a bit overwhelming being harassed by dozens of vendors to buy their stuff. I had my headphones on for this part, because I knew it would get annoying. Too busy for my liking, but a must see.

The final stop for my day was the Burj Kalifa and Dubai Fountain. The Burj Khalifa is a neo-futuristic skyscraper that was built between 2004 and 2009. It holds the record for being the tallest skyscraper in the world since it was finished in 2009, standing at 830 metres (2722 feet) tall. The building, named after the former president of the United Arab Emirates, was designed by architect Adrian Smith who works for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the same firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago. The building has a staggering 57 elevators and 8 escalators! Each elevator (some are double decker cabins) has a capacity of 14 people per cabin and can ascent at 10 metres per second! Some additional fun facts about the building are that the building uses nearly 1 million litres (250000 gallons) of water per day, the building has 347 km (215 miles) of pipes, and the cooling system that uses 46 MW of power!

After visiting the Burj Khalifa I had some ramen for dinner, while waiting for the 6:00pm show at the Dubai Fountain. The Dubai Fountain is a choreographed fountain system located in the artificial Burj Khalifa lake below the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. It was designed by WET Design, which has created some of the world’s most famous fountains including the waterfall I saw yesterday at Expo 2020, The Rain Vortex in Singapore, Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, 1988 Lisbon Expo Fountains, Fountain of Nations at EPCOT in Florida, etc. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) was founded by Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson in 1983. All three worked as Imagineers at Disney. Their original creation was the Leapfrog foundation at EPCOT. The Dubai Fountain features 6600 lights, 50 coloured projectors, and many jets that arranged into five circles, and two long arcs. The fountain can spray 83000 litres (22000 gallons) of water into the air at any moment, and the tallest jet can reach 152 metres (500 feet) in the air! You can watch the show on my YouTube page here.

After watching the three minute show at the fountain I took the metro back to my hotel, to blog for the remainder of the evening, before going to bed early, as I had an early morning flight to Yerevan, Armenia the next day.

Dubai, UAE – Day 2 of 3

Today I woke up at 7:30am because I knew I would have a lot of ground to cover. Dubai is a very spread out city, and it takes quite a while to get places. I got ready for my day and hailed a cab to take me to my first spot, Al Mahatta Museum. On the ride over the cab driver warned me that it would take 1-1.5 hours to return, despite the drive there only taking 15 minutes. The Al Mahatta Museum is an aviation museum located at the first airport in the United Arab Emirates. The airport was built in 1932 as a staging post for commercial flight routes from Britain to India. It features rare planes such as the de Havilland Comet and Vickers VC-10. Sadly, I couldn’t enter the museum due to flooding that occurred two days before, when they had a fairly significant rainstorm. I snapped a photo of the exterior.

Well… the cab driver wasn’t kidding about the return time taking a while. It took me over an hour to get a ride to the nearest metro station, just 6 kilometres away! I took the metro to the Museum of the Future, which was my next stop. The museum wasn’t open by the time I arrived, and I had yet to have dinner, so I sourced out a nice place to have breakfast called Flow. There I had a truffled steak sandwich, and a fancy Chemex coffee. I miss my Chemex maker, which I unfortunately broke a few months ago. I had a smaller one that I had I gave to my friend Arthur a couple years back.

The Museum of the Future is an exhibition space for innovative and futuristic ideologies, services and products. It is located in the Financial District, which isn’t too far from the Burj Khalifa. It was founded by the Dubai Future Foundation, and opened recently in February 2022. It was one of the more unique museums that I’ve visited, and I overall enjoyed my experience there. Plenty of special effects were used. I can buy into some of the futuristic ideologies, however most of them seem to be a far reach for the general status quo. I didn’t take too many photos inside, however I did take plenty of video. I’ll post something about that later, when I’ve compiled them together.

I was starting to get hungry so I purchased a donair for lunch from a mall located on Palm Jumeriah. The Palm Jumeriah is an artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree, and was created between 2001 and 2006. The luxury hotel was opened in September 2008. After lunch I went to the top of a tower to take pictures of the Palm from up top. What a unique creation! From the top you can also see Atlantis The Palm, Atlantis The Royal Dubai, and Cayan Tower.

Cayan Tower, also known as the Infinity Tower, is a 306 metre (1004 foot) tall skyscraper owned by Cayan Real Estate Investment and Development. It was built between August 2006 and June 2013. The building features a unique twisting design around a cylindrical elevator core, which features 7 elevators. Each of the 75 floors rotates 1.2 degrees between floors. The building, one of the tallest in the world, was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

Atlantis The Royal Dubai isn’t quite open yet, but will be in a few months. It will feature 795 luxirous rooms, 17 restaurants, and the worlds largest jellyfish aquarium. The hotel is comprised of six seperate buildings that give the appearance of being stacked like legoblocks due to the use of multiple skybridges. The building is a modern twist on the The Bank of Georgia Headquarters Building that I saw in Tbilisi, Georgia. You can check that out on my blog post here.

Atlantis The Palm is a luxury hotel featuring 1500+ rooms on the apex of the Palm Jumeriah. After soaking in the views up top I took the monorail to see the hotel up close.

My feet were starting to hurt at this point in time, since I had already clocked in 25000 steps already. I took the monorail back to the metro, and then took the metro to the beach located near the Dubai Eye to relax for a few hours soaking in the sun.

Ain Dubai, previously known as Dubai Eye, is the world’s tallest and largest Ferris Wheel. It stands 250 metres (820 feet) tall and was constructed between 2015 and 2021. The wheel can carry 1750 passengers in 48 cabins and provides breathtaking views of the Dubai Marina and various Dubai landmarks. It’s not currently operational, but is set to open soon, although it looks fairly rusty and weathered already.

After relaxing at the beach I took the metro, and a bus to a restaurant called Asia Asia, where I met my friend Karen, who I met through my friend Krystylyn in 2016. Karen was running a bit late from work, so I snapped a few photos of the Burj Kalifa while I waited. Karen is a nurse living in Dubai, and has spent most of her career in Saudi Arabi and Dubai. It was nice catching up with her.

After dinner I took the metro and a bus to get a pin from the Hardrock Café, before heading back to my hotel. I had to take a cab back to my hotel because the bus was packed, and another one wasn’t coming for 55 minutes, and I was exhausted and ready for bed.

Dubai, UAE – Day 1 of 3

Today I had to wake up at around 7:00am to catch a 10:00am flight to Dubai. I had booked a hired driver the night before to take me to the airport, since the cost was only $20. I had a quick breakfast before being driven to the airport. The airport is very beautiful, new, and spacious. After clearing security I relaxed until it was time to board my flight.

After landing in Dubai I quickly cleared customs, where they presented me with a free 1GB 5G sim card, which I ended up not using, but that’s a very nice gesture for tourists. I took the Dubai Metro to check-in to my hotel; The City Avenue Hotel. Check-in took a significant amount of time (nearly 1 hour) because they had a bunch of people checking in at the same time, and the staff were also fairly slow.

After checking into my hotel I took the bus to my first stop of the day, which was Deira Clocktower. The Deira Clocktower sits in the middle of a roundabout in Eastern Dubai at the intersection of Umm Hurair Road and Al Maktoum Road (Route D 89). It was designed by Otto Bullard and Ziki Homsi, and built in 1965. It is considered to be among the top 20 most beautiful clock towers in the world.

I then had to sit around and wait for the bus to take me to The Dubai Frame. While Dubai has a very good metro network, that can’t be said about their buses. They’re actually worse than Calgary’s buses, which is saying something. Sometimes you have to wait for 45 minutes!

The Dubai Frame is a combination observatory, museum, and monument in Zabeel Park. It stands 150 metres tall, and is 95.5 metres wide. The building overlooks Old Dubai in the North, and the newer modern Dubai in the south, and was conceived by Fernando Donis, although theres a fair amount of controversy, which you can read about online. The project was completed by Hyder Consulting (Arcais NV), and opened in 2018. The views from the top were so-so due to the amount of smog, but I imagine on a clear day it’s pretty incredible. I noticed that during my entire three days here that the city seems to be trapped under a cloud of smog the majority of the time.

I was starting to get fairly hungry, so why not head to the Mall of the Emirates to check it out, as well as get some food there. I wanted to have some Western food so I settled on Black Tap Craft Burgers, where I had a Cuban burger, and a house salad. The Mall of the Emirates was opened in 2005 and features over 630 stores, 7900 parking spaces, over 100 restaurants, and an indoor ski hill!

The sun was starting to set, so it was a perfect time to go check out Expo 2020. I took the metro, and was able to watch the sunset the entire trip there. What a special treat! Expo City Dubai is the site where Dubai hosted the 2020 World Expo from October 2021 to March 2022. It was delayed from 2020 due to Covid-19. I’m pretty sad that I didn’t get to go see the expo, and decided that I’d like to go see the next one, which will be hosted in Osaka, Japan in 2025. Over 24 million people visited Expo 2020 during the six months. The site is now part of a 3 million square meter green development called District 2020. Dubai is designating it a “15 minute city”, where everything is accessible within a 15 minute walk.  When its fully built out in 2040 it will be home to 145000 residents.

At Expo 2020 there was a beautiful waterfall feature that was designed by WET Design. It literally creates waves that can rush over people standing below. It’s hard to explain, you just have to see it in action. Checkout my YouTube video here. WET Design, which has created some of the world’s most famous fountains including The Dubai Fountain, The Rain Vortex in Singapore, Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, 1988 Lisbon Expo Fountains, Fountain of Nations at EPCOT in Florida, etc. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) was founded by Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson in 1983. All three worked as Imagineers at Disney. Their original creation was the Leapfrog foundation at EPCOT.

Final stop for the day was Dubai Miracle Garden. I ended up taking a $25 taxi here, as it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. When I got in the cab I was shocked that it had over 500,000km, and it was a 2019 model! They really do use their cars here! The Dubai Miracle Garden is a beautiful flower garden occupying 780000 square feet of space, which makes it the world’s largest natural flower garden. It features over 50 million flowers, and 250 million plants. It was opened in 2013 by Dubailand and Dubai Properties Group. The flowers are maintained by the re-use of 760000 litres (260000 gallons) per day of treated wastewater. My favourite feature of course was the Emirates Airbus A380. If you love large displays of flowers and foliage, be sure to checkout my blog post on my experiences in Singapore.

After exploring the beautiful gardens I took a cab back to my hotel, since it was nearly 11:00pm. This time the cab had nearly 580,000km.

Baku, Azerbaijan – Day 2 of 2

Today was a much slower pace than yesterday. I was quite surprised by how many things I got to see yesterday. I woke up at around 8:00am, and had breakfast downstairs. This time I opted for the “healthy” option, which was cheese, salami, yoghurt, olives, etc.

Even though that today was a slower pace than yesterday, the buildings were very spread out, so I had to spend a fair amount of my time on public transportation. My first stop was Heydar Mosque. I used the metro system to get here. Heydar Mosque is a massive Islamic mosque named after the former President of Azerbaijan; Heydar Aliyev. It was opened in December 2014 and has capacity for 75000 people!

It had already been over an hour since I left the hotel, and I had way too much coffee, so it was time to find somewhere to be. Ahhh yes McDonald’s comes saves the day. The catch is you need to purchase something, so I purchased… another coffee!

Next stop is an extremely ugly brutalism (modernism) building called the Gosstroy Residential Building. The Gosstroy Residential Building is a sixteen story apartment complex that was designed by Rasim Aliyev, a former Baku city architect. The building was constructed in 1975.

After taking pictures of the building I took the metro to Nizami Metro Station, which is the prettiest looking soviet metro station that I’ve ever seen. It has chandeliers everywhere on the platform area. Baku’s original metro stations were built quite lavishly, and were also built very far underground because they were built during the cold war and doubled as a bomb shelter.

I got off of the train at Nizami station and walked to the Azerbaijan State of Academic Drama Theatre. Theatre and dance are integral parts of the Soviet culture, and the theatre was created for a comedy called “Vizier of Kankaran Khanate”. The theatre was completed in 1919.

I then took the bus to check out the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, opened in 2009, contains 800 pieces of modern art. It was funded by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has created some joint collaboration projects with the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles. The museum doesn’t have individual rooms, but rather a large central open area where walls meet at different angles, which helps to create a multidimensional perspective of the exhibits. The museum was incredible, and had some hilarious pieces of art.

After visiting the art museum I walked to Military Trophies Park, also referred to as War Trophies Park. It is a public park that contains war trophies seized by the Armenian Army and the Artsakh Defense Army during the 2020 Nagorono-Karabakh war against Armenia.

I was getting quite hungry at this point in time so I purchased a delicious spicy donair from a donair shop called FMD (Flame Manqal Donair).

Right outside of FMD was the bus that I needed to talk to my second last stop for the day, Heydar Aliyev Centre. Heydar Aliyev Centre is a beautiful Neo-futurism style complex that consists of a 1000 seat auditorium, exhibition spaces, a conference center, workshops, and a museum. The wavy white building was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, and was constructed between 2007 and 2012. The building consists of a multitude of folds that connect various central spaces together in one single continuous surface. It was a very well thought out museum outlining the history of Azerbaijan, and all the wonderful things that Heydar Aliyev has done for his people, and I really enjoyed my experience there.

I then stopped in at the New Karavanseray Art Garden Restaurant for dinner. I had some delicious fresh bread and Dashbura, which is an Azerbaijani chicken soup. It was pretty tasty, and a bit salty, which I liked.

After dinner I took some night time photos. It’s really neat to see the Flame Towers lit up at night, as well as the Baku Ferris Wheel.

The rest of the evening I spent editing photos and blogging. Tomorrow, I jump on a mid morning flight to Dubai!

Baku, Azerbaijan – Day 1 of 2

Before I jump into things I want to clarify the primary reason why I’ve been holding off on submitting posts about the rest of my trip. I visited both Azerbaijan and Armenia in close succession, and as many of you are aware, they don’t like each other very much. I wanted to avoid having anything about either on my blog until I had left both countries. While I don’t have anything politically negative to say about either, I just wanted to keep myself safe. The hospitality and friendly nature of the Azerbaijanians was wonderful, and Baku was a pretty neat city overall, however I didn’t have the same experience in Armenia, and I’ll elaborate more on that in a few days.

Today I woke up at around 9:00am since I arrived so late last night. Breakfast at my hotel was complimentary, and I had four different options to choose from. I chose more of a traditional English breakfast with eggs, beans, sausages, etc.

Before I jump into my adventures lets learn a bit of history about Azerbaijan, and its capital city Baku.

Azerbaijan History

The history of Azerbaijan dates back to about the 9th century BC when Scythians and Iranian Medes settled in the area to the south of the Aras River. The Medes had a substantial empire between 900 and 700 BC, which was later integrated into the Achaemenid Empire around 550 BC.

In the 3rd Century AD Azerbaijan was occupied by the empire of Iranian Sasanids, and in the 7th Century by Arabian Khalifat. The area was populated heavily by Iranians and Arabs, and Islamic religion and Turkish language were widely adopted around that time. The Arab empire fell, and then the Mongols invaded. Throughout the 13th and 15th centuries the area was rules by the Mongol II-Khans, and later on by the Persians. From the 15th century onwards Azerbaijan was constantly fought over for its port access due to its location being in the middle of trade routes between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

In 1828 the land was split up by the Russians and the Persians, and was maintained that way until the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. There was a very short period of time between 1918 and 1920 when the country was independent, however the Soviet Union invaded the area in 1920 and Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union, where it remained until the Soviet Union Collapsed. Azerbaijan declared itself independent on August 20th 1991.

Baku History

Baku is the capital city, and the largest city in Azerbaijan. It also happens to be the largest city in the Caspian Sea, and in the Caucasus region, as well as holds the title for being the lowest lying capital city in the world, located at 28 metres (92 feet) below sea level. Remember the Caspian Sea, isn’t really connected to the other oceans, but is actually a massive lake that is called a sea.

Baku’s city name is a Persian name meaning wind-pounding city, which is definitely the case. It was extremely cold and windy the entire time I was here. The history of the city dates back to 96 AD, where there is some early evidence of the Romans occupying the area. I’ve already gone through the general history of Azerbaijan above, and that’s also applicable in the case of Baku as well. The city is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000 and is an important scientific, cultural, and industrial center, especially il since the Russians built the first oil-distilling factory there in 1837! Today Baku has nearly 5.1 million people living in the city. It also hosts Formula 1 races there annually, and has one of my favourite race tracks due to it being so technical.

Exploring Baku

After breakfast I started exploring Baku for the day. My first stop, the Gasimbey Bath Complex, was literally right outside of my hotel. The bath house, which also was named Sweet Bath for the sweets served to bathers with their tea, was built in the 17th century. It’s located within the old fortress walls, where my hotel was located. You can also see a beautiful Baroque style building behind it.

From here I could also see a great view of The Flame Towers. The Flame Towers are a group of three skyscrapers that vary in heigh from 161 to 182 metres (528 to 597 feet) tall. The three flame shaped towers symbolize the elements of fire, and reference Azerbaijan’s nickname of “The Land of Fire”. Azerbaijan gets that nickname because there’s an “eternal” natural gas fire that burns just north of the city. The towers were completed between 2007 and 2013, and contain 130 apartments, a Fairmont hotel with 250 rooms and 61 services apartments, and over 33000 square metres of office space.

Also from here I could see the Azerbaijan State Museum of Art, which is the largest art museum of Azerbaijan. It was founded in 1936, and in 1943 was named after Rustam Mustafayev, a painter and one of the creators of realist scenography in Azerbaijan. The museum is housed in a beautiful Baroque-style De Bour mansion. Fun fact, some artwork was stolen from the museum in 1993, however was retrieved later on.

Just a few steps away I noticed a pretty spectacular brutalism (modernism) style building that houses the Executive Office of the President. This 12 storey building was completed in 1990 and the entire facade consists of marble and granite.

You’ll notice a trend that many buildings and sights are in close proximity to one another, and you’d be right, especially in the historic district. That even goes for my next stop, the Baku State Philharmonic Hall, which is across the street from the Executive Office of the President. The Baku State Philharmonic Hall is a beautiful Renaissance style hall built between 1910 and 1912 at the request of the city elite. It was designed by Soviet architect Gabriel Ter-Mikelov. The building consists of the main Summer Hall, which houses 1100 seats, as well as the Winter Hall, which houses 610 seats. It’s design was inspired by the architectural styles of buildings of the Monte-Carlo Casino in Monaco. It was originally built as a club for the wealthy people of Baku to use for banquets and entertainment. During the Russian Civil War it was used as a place for the general public. From 1918 to 1920 meetings of the first parliament of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic were held there. In 1936, the club was reorganized into a resident for the Philharmonic society. In August 1937 the building underwent renovation and was named after composed Muslim Magomayev. In 1995 the building was closed to undergo another renovation, and remained closed for over 8 years without undergoing any renovations because of substantial damage from underground waters. The restoration eventually resumed due to the order of President Heydar Aliyev, and was eventually opened again in 2004.

From here you can see a unique looking glass pyramid, which houses the Icherisheher Metro Station. The station, built in 1967, was originally called Baki Soveti until it was renamed in 2007. In 2008 the station underwent renovations between July and December. I would later use this station throughout my trip, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

Behind the metro station, within the old walls, stands the Statue of Aliaga Vahid, which is dedicated to the Azerbaijani poet and ghazal singer. What’s a ghazal you may ask? It’s a form of poetry. Also, here’s a photo of the beautiful walls!

Another short walk away is the The Azerbaijan State Economic University, which was founded in 1930 and is one of the biggest educational institutions in the area. It has 14 faculties that educate 18500 students annuals. The university offers nearly 60 programs, and employs nearly 1000 staff members. Unfortunately, I can’t find much information on the original campus building, but it certainly is beautiful. It appears to have a renaissance architecture style to it. 

Next door is Ismailiyya Palace, a historical building that currently serves as the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences. This Venetian Gothic building was designed by Józef Plośko and constructed between 1908 and 1913. It was originally constructed for the Muslim Charity Society at the expense of millionaire Musa Naghiyev, an oil magnate who eventually died a few years later.

From here you can see The Gate of Shammah, also known as the Double Castle Doors, or Qoşa Qala Qapısı. The gates originate back to the 12th century. Originally consisting of only one gate, a second gate was built in 1883 when the Gate of Zulfigar Khan was more there when the front wall of the castle was pulled down. Many of the stones of the demolished castle were used to build houses. Between the tower there is an emblem of two lions facing each other with a bulls head between them.

I walked through the Gate of Shammah to explore more inside the old city walls. You’ll notice I basically was bouncing in and out of the old city walls, which is a fairly small area encompassing only 53 acres of land. Despite the small area it is still home to about 3000 residents.

Located within, and actually attached to the North East wall is Maiden Tower. The Maiden Tower is a 12th century tower that stands 30 metres (100 foot) tall, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tower is an excellent example of pre-Islamic architecture, also known as Zoroastrianism. There’s unfortunately not a lot of history about the tower, so it’s not sure if it was used as a temple, observatory, a water tower, or something else. The tower is built in a cylindrical shape and stands about 30 metres tall, with a diameter of 16.5 metres wide. The walls at the ground floor are five metres thick! The tower has eight floors, and each floor can look down onto the other, so if you look down from the top floor you can see down the entirety of the building.

Alright, so it was finally time to venture a small bit away from this very tight area to The Residential Building of Scientists. The building was built in 1946, and was a joint design by architects Sadig Dadashov and Mikayil Useynov. The housing complex is a very unique design and resembles that of a castle.

From here I could spot a funicular, so I decided to ride it to the top. Who doesn’t like a funicular? They’re fun! For $0.50 I rode the strange funicular to the top. Usually funiculars are on a constant slope, however this funicular started off at a medium steepness, almost levelled out, and then got extremely steep towards the end. At the end I was dropped off at the bottom of The Flame Towers; how cool!

Rotating just 90 degrees North I can see a sizable memorial dedicated to Hazi Aslanov, a major-general of the Soviet armoured troops during World War 2.

Rotating another 90 degrees to face East I can see the Baku Turkish Martyr’s Memorial, which is dedicated to the Ottoman soldiers killed during World War 1.

There was a very expansive area overlooking the lower areas of Baku, so I walked its entirety. From the top there is Shaidlar Monument and Martyr’s Lane, and you can also see lower Baku below.

Shahidlar Monument, also known as the Baku Turkish Martyrs’ Memorial, is a memorial dedicated to the Ottoman soldiers killed during World War 1 in Azerbaijan. The monument was designed by Turkish architects Hüseyin Bütüner and Hilmi Güner. There’s a perpetual flame located at the bottom of the monument that has been burning since the monument was built in 1998.

Martyrs’ Lane is dedicated to the 15000+ people that were killed by the Soviet Army during Black January in 1990, and the First Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988-1994. Approximately 14000 Azerbaijani’s, 1130 Turkishish, and 92 British were killed.

After enjoying my views at the top I started walked down the long windy road back to lower Baku. I had already clocked in nearly 15000 steps at this point in time, and it was only 11:00am! On my way back down I saw Gulustan Palace. Gulustan Palace, formerly known as the Gulustan Wedding Palace Complex during the Soviet era, is a convention center owned by the Azerbaijani government. The unique looking brutalism style building opened in 1980, and was designed by Alish Lambaranski, H. Amirkhanov, N. Hajibeyov, T. Sharinski, F. Rustamova, N. İsmayilov, K. Kerimov, and Abbas Alasgarov. It was built for mass city and nation-wide events. The palace has two floors and a basement, and houses a 100 seat cinema, a café, 2 bars, a disco room, souvenir shop, a 960 person main hall, a restaurant, and a banquet room.

After walking to lower Baku I decided to visit the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, which contains the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world! It was first opened in 1967, and moved to its new dedicated building in 2014. It contains over 10000 items including ceramics, metal works, jewelry, and carpets. It was interesting learning how carpets were made, and the sheer amount of detail that goes into making them. The neat thing is the building looks like a rolled up carpet!

From here you can see a weird spaceship looking building, which was actually just a shopping mall called Deniz Mall. Fun fact about Azerbaijan, it’s illegal to take photos inside malls and metro stations, and government buildings, and is punishable by a heavy fine and the possibility of a prison sentence. It looked really unique inside, however I didn’t want to chance it, so a picture of the exterior will have to suffice. I was hungry, so I decided to check out what the mall had to offer. I settled on a chicken shawarma because it was quick, easy, and cost effective. I also purchased a coffee from McDonald’s, as I was starting to struggle with my energy levels. By now I had reached 22000 steps!

After eating some much needed nourishment it was time to continue exploring Baku. Upon exiting the mall I turned and started walking South towards Baku Eye, a large Ferris Wheel located on Baku Boulevard overlooking the sea. The Ferris Wheel was constructed between 2013 and 2014 by a Dutch Company called Dutch Wheels, and was opened on March 10th 2014. The Ferris Wheel stands 60 metres (200 feet) tall and has 30 enclosed cabins. 28 of the cabins are built to hold eight people, and there are two VIP cabins that can hold four people. Each cabin is also air conditioned and contains a TV screen. Since it wasn’t peak tourism season, it wasn’t operating. I must note that overall it felt I had most of the city to myself, as I didn’t see any obvious tourists there. That’s my preferred time to travel.

A 180 degree rotation from the Baku Eye sits one of the prettiest Art Deco buildings I’ve seen, the Sheraton Baku Intourist. This historic Art Deco hotel was built in 1934. It was recently renovated in 2015 by MKV Design, North West Construction, and Pasha Construction. The hotel features 140 rooms, and a restaurant and bar. On the exterior of the building the large original clock, a signature Art Deco feature on many buildings in the era, was retained and restored to its original glory. Sadly the hotel was undergoing renovations yet again, otherwise I would have stayed here. It opens up again in a few months.

This was as far South as I was willing to walk, especially with the insane crisp wind blowing in my face, so I started to walk North again, stopping at Mini-Venice, which is located in Dənizkənarı Milli Park. It’s a cute little recreation of Venice, where you can pay to take a ride in a gondola. It was also not operational, since it wasn’t tourism season.

Located on the North side of Mini-Venice, still in Dənizkənarı Milli Park is Swans Fountain. The fountain dates back to the 1960’s when seven swan statues and a fountain were erected along Seaside Boulevard. They were created by inspiration from the poet Nizami Ganjavi’s “Seven Beuties” poem. In 2007 the boulevard underwent substantial reconstruction, and the fountain and swan were replaced, however in 2018 following an initiative by Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva the fountain and swans were restored to this historical glory. The replacement fountain and swans were designed by sculptor Murad Sujaddinov.

Continuing my walk North along the shoreline I came to Mirvari Café, which is normally one of the main attractions of Dənizkənarı Milli Park. You can usually enjoy a cup of coffee here looking at the sea, however it was closed, and looked almost abandoned. It was built in 1962 by architect Vadim Shulik per the request of a Baku City Executive named Alish Lemberansky. This beautiful Art Deco style building resembles that of a flower petal from above. The unique building is constructed over 8cm thin reinforced concrete, and it doesn’t have any walls. The ceiling smoothly flows into supports. It reminds me significantly of the La Conca Motel building in Las Vegas, which currently serves as the main entrance to Las Vegas Neon Lights museum. See my blog post on that here.

Continuing North for just a few minutes I came to The Baku Clock Tower, which was constructed in 1936. It was originally used as a parachute training tower and was considered the tallest tower in the Soviet Union when it was built, standing at 75 metres (245 feet) tall. The tower was operational until an accident occurred in the 1960’s. It remained unused until 2008, when it was repurposed as a memorial and a clock tower. The tower displays the time, wind speed, barometric pressure, and various sea water information. You could hear the wind hitting the metal, creating an earie howling sound. It was pretty weird!

From here you could walk out onto Baku View Point, which provides beautiful views of Baku’s entire curving coastline. Remember that view I could see from upper Baku when I get got off the funicular?

A 180 degree turn from the viewpoint and you can see the Independence Museum of Azerbaijan. The Independence Museum of Azerbaijan was establish in 1919 and was originally located in the Parliament building. It didn’t last very long and was liquidated in 1920 when the Soviet’s arrived. The small collection was divided up and most was sent to the Azerbaijan State Musuem. The Independence Museum didn’t come back until 1991 after Azerbaijan claimed its independence from the USSR, and now houses a collection of over 20000 items in an impressive Soviet style building that used to be a Lenin Museum back in the former Soviet days. I opted to not explore this museum in the interest of preserving my time for museums that interested me more.

Continuing my walk further North along the coast line I saw this weird egg shaped looking building, which happened to be the Park Bulvar Mall. Knowing the correct protocol, I only took photos of the exterior of the building.

After passing the mall I came to my favourite Baroque style building in Baku, if not one of my favoruites in the entire world. It stands strongly above the main Formula 1 Grandstand. The Azerbaijan House of Government is a Baroque style building constructed between 1936 to 1952 to house the various state ministries of Azerbaijan. It is located on Neftchiler Avenue and faces Baku Boulevard. The building, designed by Lev Rudnev, and V.O. Munts, can hold 5500 people. The construction of the building also led to the construction of Lenin Square, which was renamed later on to Azadliq Square after Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991. In 1955, a monument dedicated to Vladimir Lenin was installed in the front of the building, however after Azerbaijan gained its independence it was removed, and replaced by a large Azerbaijan flag, which wasn’t currently on display.

I had two more stops left, and then I was going to call it a day, as I had walked over 30000 steps, and my feet were feeling it. Second last stop was The National Security Service of the Republic of Azerbaijan (DTX). It’s housed in a building that is definitely from the soviet era. Guess what… you’re not supposed to take pictures of government buildings and I didn’t realize it was, so here you go!

Final stop for today was the Palace of The Shirvanshahs,  also known as The Palace of Happiness, or the Palace of Marriage Registrations. The Neo-Gothic style building is located very close to my hotel, and was designed by Polish architect Józef Płoszko, and was constructed between 1911 and 1912. It was originally built for Azerbaijani Oil Baron Murtuza Mukhtarov for his wife Liza. French Gothic style was chosen because Liza was astonished by that particular architecture style after a recent trip to France. The couple lived in the palace until April 1920, when the Bolsheviks began to occupy Azerbaijan. Three Russian officers entered the building on April 28th 1920 and were shot by Mukhtarov before he committed suicide. In 1922 Soviet authorities turned the building over to the Ali Bayramov Club, a female run organization that trained women on a variety of vocational skills. Afterwards the building functioned as Shirvanshahs Museum, the Palace of Marriage Registrations, and now the Palace of Happiness. The palace underwent a major restoration between August 2001 and July 2012, when it was reopened to the public.

It was time to go back to my hotel to rest for a bit. I edited some photos until it was time to get some dinner at Qaynana Restaurant. I had a local dish called Piti, alongside a delicious salad smothered in fresh dill. Piti is the national dish of Azerbaijan. It consists of mutton, tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas, and a dollop of fat (Goyruk) on top. It is cooked in a clay pot.

More Blogs Coming Soon

You may have noticed that I have not been posting in a few days. There’s a few reasons behind this; I ran out of server space, so I’m archiving my 2016-2019 content; I have not been in the mood; and I’ve been too busy exploring on my trip. I have a new post coming on January 14th, and there will be daily publishes thereafter until I’m all caught up. Stay tuned!

Tbilisi, Georgia – Day 3 of 3

Last night I slept a lot better than the night before. I had nearly 9 hours of sleep, which was a marked improvement. I started the day off by having breakfast downstairs. The complementary breakfast included a few slices of spam, a hard boiled egg, yoghurt, pancakes, and some rice. I skipped the rice since I’m quite allergic to rice now. I should have skipped the egg, as egg whites make me itchy.

After breakfast I walked to Chreli Abano, a traditional Turkish bathhouse. I had a 1 hour soak there with a traditional scrub. It felt great, however it did irritate my skin a fair amount. It only ended up costing me about $40.

After soaking at the bathhouse I walked to Sioni Cathedral, just a few minutes away. Sioni Cathedral is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral. The cathedral follows a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land. In this case it bears the name of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was originally constructed in the 5th century under the order of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Starting in 575 AD a new structure was built under the order of Guaram, the prince of Iberia, however it wasn’t completed until 639 AD. The church was eventually destroyed by Arabs. It was eventually rebuilt in 1112 by King David the Builder. In 1226 it’s dome roof was heavily damaged by the order of Jalal ad Din Mingburnu. It was eventually repairs, and damaged again in 1386, and subsequently repaired by King Alexander I. During the Persian invasions in 1522 and in the 17th century it was damaged yet again. It was substantially restored between 1657 and 1710, however was destroyed again in 1795 by the Persians. The cathedral was restored again between 1850 and 1860, however this time it was restored by Russian artists Knyaz Grigory, so the interior looked quite different. It hadn’t been attacked since, however undertook additional renovations between 1980 and 1983.

After exploring the Cathedral I walked across the bridge to take the Tbilisi Cable Car up to the top of Sololaki Hill to see the Mother of Georgia sculpture, and Narikala Castle & Fortress. The Tbilisi Cable Car opened in 2012. The views on the way up were breathtaking!

The Mother of Georgia Statue, also known as Kartlis Deda, is a monument erected on top of Sololaki Hill in 1958 to celebrate Tbilisi’s 1500th anniversary. The original statue was wooden, however was replaced with an aluminum sculpture in 1997 after considerable environmental damage. The sculpture, which resembles a female holding a cup of wine and a sword, was designed by Georgian sculptor Elguja Amashukeli. It resembles the endless battles that the city has had to endure.

Narikala Fortress is an ancient fortress that overlooks Tbilisi. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulfur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi. St. Nicholas church resides in the lower courtyard. It was recently rebuilt between 1996 and 1997 to replace the original 13th century church that was destroyed in a fire. The history of the fortress dates back to about the 4th century, when a fortress was built during the reign of King Varaz-Bakur. At the end of the 4th century the fortress was overthrown by the Persians, and recaptured by the kings of Kartli in the middle of the 5th century. It underwent considerable expansion by the Umayyads in the 7th century, as-well as the 9th century by king David the Builder. The Mongols eventually renamed the fortress “Narin Qala”, which means “Little Fortress”. Most of the current fortifications were built between the 16th and 17th century. In the 18th century the Persians repeatedly attacked the fortress. In 1827 an earthquake damaged portions of the fortress, which were so badly damaged that they were demolished.

At the top of Sololaki Hill I had a Vanilla Chimney. Imagine a cinnamon churro rolled into a cone, which is filled with fruit and vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely delicious, however was fairly pricey compared to other food here, costing nearly $13, when most food is about $5-10. From the top of Narikala Fortress you can also see Juma Mosque. Juma Mosque, also known as Tbilisi Mosque, is the only Muslim shrine in the city. It was designed by architect Giovanni Scudieri, and built between 1846 and 1851 to replace the original mosque that was built between 1723 and 1735 by the Ottomans, but destroyed by the Persians in the 1740’s. In 1895 the mosque was completely rebuilt again by Baku-based millionaire and philanthropist Hajizinelabdin Tagiyev in a combined neo-Gothic and Islamic architecture style.

I walked back down from Narikala Fortress to catch a bus to a unique collaboration place called Fabrika. Fabrika was once a soviet sewing factory named “Nino”, and is now home to a hub of an old-meets-new meeting space of creative and artistic people to congregate. It includes studios, shops, co-working space, cafes, and a hostel. There’s some unique artwork on the exterior of the building. I enjoyed a cup of coffee, relaxed, and took in the art.

After exploring Fabrika I took another bus to see Laguana Vere. The Laguna Vere Sports Complex is an abandoned Soviet era sports complex built between 1965 and 1978! It was designed by Georgian architects Shota Kavlashvili, Guram Abuladze and Ramaz Kiknadze, with additional artwork and mosaics produced by Koka Ignatov. Construction took a very long time because the project was placed on hold for eight years. The complex was opened on October 13th 1978. It was the first open-air pool in Tbilisi open to all citizens regardless of their social class / status. It consists of three pools arranged side-by-side; an Olympic sized 50 metre x 25 metre pool, a 25 metre x 10 metre pool, and a 25 metre x 20 metre diving pool. It features a beautiful brutalist concrete tower fitted with three diving boards at 5 metre, 7 metre, and 10 metre heights. Laguna Vere went into private ownership in 2000, and went into significant decline and was eventually closed in 2014. There were over a dozen stray dogs, and there was signage notifying that it is private property and to not take photos, so I didn’t stick around too long.

Another bus ride, and I arrived at the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and the former Tbilisi Cable Car terminal. When I got off the bus there were two very angry Georgian grandmas fighting over a vendor spot, so I quickly walked by. I was quite impressed with how loud they were; they definitely had people looking.

The Georgian National Academy of Sciences (GNAS) was established in 1941. The building that houses GNAS was constructed between 1949 and sometime in the early 1960’s. It was constructed in two parts, the five-story horizontal array building that runs along the frontage of Rustaveli Avenue, and a 55 metre-high tower. Both buildings were designed by Georgian architects M. Chkhikvadze and K. Chkheidze, and are in a Stalinist architecture style.

The Tbilisi Cable Car Station is an abandoned cable car station that was built on the Rustaveli Avenue – Mtatsminda Park cable car line, which opened in 1959. The station was abandoned after a tragic accident occurred on June 1st 1990, which resulted in the 19 deaths, and 42 injuries. The cable car system was comprised of two cars, and the haul rope broke inside the coupler of the upper most gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously, and the upper gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station, killing four and injuring others. The upper gondola picked up speed and eventually crashed into the lower support tower and was torn upon from the cable. In 1988, two years prior to the accident, the cable car underwent some major reconstruction. The cable car system originally used three supporting towers, with the lowest tower standing 20 metres (66 feet) tall, and the two upper masts standing at 10 and 12 metres (33 and 39 feet). The lowest mast was replaced with a new 25 metre (82 foot) tall mast, and the upper two was replaced by one 20 metre (66 foot) tall mast. The original 25 person gondolas were also replaced with 40 person gondolas. It was determined early on that the braking system of the new gondolas were not functioning properly, and that staff members had to manually climb on top of the gondolas to turn it off manually. To avoid this inconvenience, they brake systems were disabled. On the day of the accident both gondolas were over-capacity, with 46 and 47 passengers on-board.

A short walk away is the gorgeous Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater. The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi, formerly known as the Tiflis Imperial Theater, is a beautiful Moorish Revival style theatre that is situated on Rustaveli Avenue, one of the main roads in Tbilisi. The theatre, designed by Antonio Scudieri, was built between 1847 and 1851. In 1874 a massive fire tore through the theatre. The theatre was rebuilt and opened in 1896 with its current design by Viktor Schroter.

I was starting to get fairly hungry so it was time to eat. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find a restaurant that would serve some yummy local dishes, but I don’t think I was in the right area. All I could find was Americana style food. I had a cheeseburger at the Burger House for lunch. It was fairly good!

It was time to head up to Mtatsminda Park, located on Mount Mtatsminda. To get there I took the historic funicular to the top. The funicular was built between 1903 and 1905 by an anonymous Belgian man. Originally the railway was constructed to connect Upper Tbilisi on Mtatsminda (the Holy Mountain) with Lower Tbilisi. The original agreement, signed in 1900, was that the Belgians would be granted ownership of the funicular with a 45-year lease, after which it would then become property of the city. The new Upper Tbilisi district was unfortunately never built due to water supply issues, as well as the Russian revolution of 1905. The Funicular sat is near pristine condition throughout the years and was eventually utilized in 1938 when the park was opened at the top. Today the park includes an amusement park, TV tower, cemetery, and a restaurant. The funicular was shut down between 2000 and 2012 to undergo a complete renovation.

The Georgia Tbilisi TV Tower was built in 1972 and stands 275 metres (900 feet) tall. The tower is operated by Georgian Teleradiocenter.

The theme park contains a large Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other amusement rides.

The views of Tbilisi below are absolutely fantastic, including my favourite view of the Public Service Hall. The Public Service Hall building is a beautiful modern building that houses the National Bank of Georgia, the Minister of Energy, and the Civil and National Registry. The building, designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, was opened in 2012. The building is situated next to the Kura River, and almost looks like a tree canopy. There are even petals that form the roof over the seven different buildings that comprise of the buildings. Some people describe the building as an overgrown mushroom forest in the midst of some towering trees. The leaves are made of fiberglass and resin, and the rest of the building is made of steel and glass.

After walking around the park I took a bus back down to Old Tbilisi and had dinner at the same restaurant that I had dinner at lastnight. This time I had traditional Georgian soup with mini khinkali’s in it. After dinner I walked back to my hotel to do another hour and a half of blog writing, before taking the bus to the airport to board a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan on a Buta Airways Embraer E-190.

I was greeted at Baku airport with a private driver that I had the hotel setup for me, since I knew it would be very late by the time my flight arrived. The drive from the airport to my hotel took about 30 minutes, and it was neat to drive on the same road that the Baku Formula 1 race is held on. I checked into my hotel and immediately went to sleep, because it was 2:00am.